Do children and museums mix? They do when it’s the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, a three-story building on Pittsburgh‘s North Side. The building connects historic buildings in the city: the Allegheny Post Office Building and the Buhl Building, and is adjacent to Buhl Community Park (I’ll tell you more about that in a bit — first, the museum).
My four-year-old son and I attended the museum as part of a media tour of kid-friendly Pittsburgh (aka Kidsburgh).
Just behind the museum’s registration desk is the Limb Bender, a wall of wide stairs that kids kids climb up (and down). My son loved climbing up as far as he could, as did the handful of other kids who were at various stages of height inside of it.
Next we went to the Nursery, a section set up for younger visitors (babies to toddlers) with bright, interactive exhibits made for little hands to play with. My son is obsessed with trains (notice the Thomas the Tank engine t-shirt?) and couldn’t walk past this train table without stopping to play.
Further inside the Nursery, there were light tables with colored sand and brushes, where kids could make patterns and designs in the sand. My son loved playing with the colored sticks on what looked like a giant Lite-Brite.
Next we headed for the Garage, where we found a full-size replica of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Trolley – and a table with parts to make a much smaller version of the trolley. Fred Rogers’ legacy is felt throughout the museum. A Pittsburgh icon, he was involved with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh since its inception as an advisor, a mentor, and a friend.
His message is also posted throughout the museum — a fantastic reminder of the importance of just being a child.
By now we’d worked up an appetite, so my son and I walked over to the Big Red Room Cafe. It was a little too warm for the outdoor patio, so we ate in the cafe — but not before washing our hands in this adorable (and literal) water closet.
I ordered a grilled chicken wrap and my son had pizza and chocolate milk. My wrap was served warm and the soft pita bread could barely contain all the fresh vegetables — something you don’t always find in children-focused attractions. It was nice to see healthy options on the menu.
Ready for more, we went to the Studio, an interactive art area for kids of all ages. We saw kids gathered around a table making things with clay, a museum worker teaching a group of kids how to screen print, and kid-sized easels where children could finger paint or draw.
From the rotunda ceiling hangs one of my favorite pieces in the museum: “More Light” by Dick Esterle.
Out the back doors of the Studio is the Backyard, where kids can swing on swings that activate music from the movement, climb up a clubhouse with solar panels on the roof that power its LED lights, and play in a huge sandbox.
We spent about four hours in the museum, but could have spent much longer. We’re already thinking of our next visit, and considering bringing the kids’ grandparents with us as well. I noticed that, throughout the museum, there was seating adjacent to or sometimes within the exhibit — a handy place not only for tired parents to sit down, but for grandparents who want to enjoy watching the little ones play but aren’t able to do so while standing for long periods of time.
Not to be missed is the adjacent Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square. The park opened in 2012 and is a beautiful green space to sit, enjoy a meal, or just let the kids run around.
But the best part of the park is “Cloud Arbor,” a piece of public art by Ned Kahn. Sixty-four innocent looking stainless steel poles reach to the sky — and hold a secret.
Every three minutes, these poles emit a “cloud” of mist that rises, swirls and falls on anyone nearby. The mist is superfine and almost doesn’t feel wet when it touches your skin. My son loved running in and out of the mist, and then counting down the seconds before the next release.
Disclosure: My son and I received free admission to the museum.